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Chapter 2

SOAN 2040 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Labour Power, Deskilling, Social Alienation

Sociology and Anthropology
Course Code
SOAN 2040

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Chapter 2- Edgell
Pgs 28- 47
- For Marx, alienation was both inevitable and universal in capitalist societies,
but it could be overcome
- Alienation according to Marx: is rooted in structure of industrial capitalism,
all means for the development if production transform themselves into
means of domination over the producers; BASICALLY SUPRESSES
- 4 distinct manifestations of alienation under industrial capitalism (Marx):
o 1) Production alienation: a worker is alienated from the product of
his/her labour, which is owned by the employer
o 2) Activity alienation: the activity of work itself is alienated because it
is involuntary and forced, fails to develop a worker’s creative
o 3) Species alienation: A result of product and activity alienation,
workers become alienated from their essential nature, what makes
them human. Estranged labour tears them away from his species in
o 4) Social alienation: workers are alienated from each other
- Marx claimed that industrial capitalism suppressed creativity
- Industrial capitalism: immorality, deformity, and dulling of the workers and
- Alienation was a political issue, a problem endemic to industrial capitalism
that could only be overcome by revolutionary change and the creation of a
communist society
o For Seeman, he didn’t want to get rid of it, just wanted to make it
- Seeman’s 5 different meanings of alienation:
o 1) Powerlessness, 2) meaninglessness, 3) normlessness, 4) isolation,
and 5) self- estrangement
- Blauner accepted the Marxian premise that there are powerful alienating
tendencies in modern factory technology and industrial organization, but
REJECTED the assumption that alienation was inevitable under industrial
capitalism on the grounds that the alienating tendencies emphasized by Marx
are unevenly distributed among the labour force
- According to Blauner, the technology industry determines the nature of the
job tasks performed by blue- collar employees and has an important effect on
a number of aspects of alienation
o Blauner denies that his four types of technology (craft (printing),
machine- tending (textiles), assembly line (cars), continuous- process
(chemicals)) conform to a unilinear model of industrial evolution, but
admits that exceptions, such as instances of regression ‘are very rare’.
o Explanation of 4 meanings of alienation (Blauner):
1) powerlessness or lack of freedom and control at work, 2)
meaninglessness or lack of understanding and sense of

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purpose, 3) social isolation or lack of a sense of belonging and
an inability to identify with the organization, and 4) self-
estrangement or lack of involvement and hence fulfillment at
o Opposites of ^, 1) powerlessness = freedom and control, 2)
meaninglessness= understanding and purpose, 3) social isolation=
belonging and identity, 4) self- estrangement= involvement and self-
o The auto- assembly line was deemed to be the most alienated modern
work because it is physically demanding but intellectually
unchallenging maximizes powerlessness
- Critique of Blauner’s alienation thesis:
o Methodological, theoretical/ conceptual, interpretative
Methodological limitations:
Given Blauners specific interests, the data was
inherently unsuitable. The research evidence was not
His study was about job satisfaction, masquerading as
one of alienation. Levels of job satisfaction tend to
context sensitive
Theoretical/ conceptual limitations:
Because he attempted to link job satisfaction to
structural condition, his analysis aspired to a more
complete account by including both the subjective and
objective features of work
Interpretative limitations:
Distortion of the interpretation of data
About textile workers: Blauner’s study obscured the
previously argued link between working conditions and
workers’ responses’, and it ignores data which show
that women’s work conditions are more demanding
- Key points of Blauner’s study are that: (1) it was a test of Marx’s theory that
all workers are alienated under industrial capitalism, (2) the data sources
included a secondary analysis of attitudinal survey data, some purposefully
collected interview data, and comparative industrial statistics,
o (3) Four types of technology/ industries were examined craft
technology/ printing industry, and continuous- process technology/
o (4) Four dimensions of alienation were distinguished: powerlessness,
meaningfulness, social isolation, and self- estrangement
o (5) It hypothesized that not all workers were equally alienated and
that differences in technology were primarily responsible for the
(7) When this pattern of variations in alienation was placed in
historical context, it was described as an inverted U- curve
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